I promised myself that I would add one of these stories here every time I told one. I tell them at one point or another throughout the summer. There will be no chronology - not yet anyway - nor will there be much of a schedule. You never know; I might add a story every day and I might not. This is my life. Every day is an adventure.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Going off the Grid

I read a post on Facebook yesterday where a friend of mine vented about extra charges being added to her utilities bill specifically earmarked to help the government pay for some of it's excesses, and without any prior notice or opportunity to vote. This little detail was probably tucked in with some other excess that succeeded in clawing it's way through the voting system and was strategically never mentioned. Personally, I'd be tempted to take an ax to that nice little ticking time-bomb attached to the side of my house. Of course, you can't do that if you don't own the house. You could get sued.

However, it got me thinking. Just how hard is it to go off the grid? I really don't know. Prior to moving out here, the 'grid' was a given, one of those things taken for granted and never thought of until the electricity went out in some storm. All you can do is hunker down, shed a tear for the contents of the freezer, and wait for the company to fix the problem.

That's the way I thought until this happened a short time after I married my husband. We lived in a trailer park in an aging trailer and there was a mean snow-storm going on outside. When we lost power, my husband dug out a small generator and an extension cord, and wallah, we endured the outage while watching TV. We also had a lamp plugged in so, in the whole trailer park, we were the only one lit up. I was so proud of my smart husband. Who knew such a thing could be so easy?

I know now that hooking your house up to a private generator can be dangerous too, especially for the nice man who comes around to check your usage or for someone else down the line who might be working on the reason for the outage itself, but the generator wasn't hooked into the house power so they were all safe. I also now know that there are special breakers you can install that will allow you to use your own generator to run your whole house. Though that idea was very tempting, I never really thought much about 'going off the grid' even like that. When we moved out here, we moved far beyond city electricity and water, and having a little generator and using the outhouse or a pitcher-pump for water was just another part of the adventure.

Consider for a moment how all these power companies got their start. Someone figured out how to generate electricity (I don't know how, so don't ask), and they discovered that it was really easy to generate more than enough for a single house. In fact it's pretty darn easy to generate enough for several houses, you just need a big enough generator and there are many available to buy. And if you decide to go this route, and your neighbors decide to complain about the noise, all you have to do is offer to share.

Let's say, with your house as the center, you have 8 immediate neighbors - 3 across the street in front of you, 3 across the alley behind you and one on either side of you. You buy a 12KW or bigger diesel generator and put it in your garage. If each of those neighbors buys you five gallons of diesel or pays you the equivalent, you are likely to come out ahead in the first week. Don't take my math as a for-sure because I don't know the numbers when it comes to running a 12KW, but I'm not far off. That 'extra' could and should go into generator maintenance and oil, and anything else that might be necessary, I'm not a mechanic and I know even less about maintaining a generator, diesel or otherwise.

So, go to the gas station and look at the price of five gallons of diesel. Consider that it might last you a week, and then look at your electric bill (divided by 4, since it's for a month), which is cheaper? Without doing the math myself, I think buying diesel once a week is tons cheaper. I think having a noisy generator in your garage is a small price to pay, and I think that noisy generator would pay for itself in no time. Noise can always be muffled by soundproofing, and you get used to it to the point that you don't notice it until it's off for the night or for an oil change.

So tell me, how hard is it really, to go off the grid? Will the company sue you for not using their service? Will they try to bring some other pressure to bear? Likely, but can they really force you to hook up to city electricity? Now water you may just have to take - the plumbing is already there and it's not as if you all want to haul gallons and gallons of water every day just so you can wash your clothes or dishes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Value of Things

This morning, a friend of mine, Desmond Campbell, from Facebook, made a comment about why some people are always broke and will always be broke. His reasons were:
1)Not willing to learn something new
2)Will do it next year when the time is right
4)Oh everyone is doing that
5)Spends beyond means on credit and blows their cash
6)The need to satisfy with objects to make themselves feel better at that moment
7)Does not! Research a market before doing!

All valid reasons, but that's not the subject of my blog. It was merely the spark that ignited this post. Value of things is what I want to talk about today. Ever since we moved out here, we have lived on an income that our most generous country considers to be below the poverty level. That leaves me wondering what they base their numbers on. There are people in town making more than we do and they need food stamps, state aid and housing assistance to make ends meet. What do they spend their wages on? It totally baffles me, the value people put on the things they think they need.

My life style is very different than those living in any town you can name, even small country towns, but in many ways it's still the same. We watch TV - we have HUNDREDS of movies. We eat, buy clothes, drive to work every day - well every day during the summer. We own our property and pay property taxes. The difference comes around when we are spending my hard earned wages. The cash we make during the summer has to supply us for the whole year.

What do you buy during the course of a year? We go through about a barrel of gasoline a month. A barrel of diesel will probably last us about two months, but we don't run the diesel generator during the winter. Food, I usually order through work and that eats up three quarters of my income.

For the rest - Do you need to have electrical power after you go to bed? Really? How much would you save on your electric bill if you could throw a breaker and turn your house off at night or when you were away on vacation, or even when no one was at home during the day, say when everyone was at school or at work. How many watt hours does that leave? five? seven? eight even? I suppose you need a couple in the morning, so ten watt hours? twelve? You say, "what about the refrigerator? What about the Freezer?" Believe me, they do just fine if the door isn't fanning.

Now clothes might be the biggest difference. You need clothes appropriate for your work and kids grow up. Living out here, I'm not running any fashion contest so sweat pants and a t-shirt are the attire of the day any day, and my kids are grown and can buy their own clothes now. I buy a few new things each time I go to town but nothing much more than new underclothes or long underwear. This year I plan to look for a dress. I'm looking for denim (I know, you don't need to tell me) and I want it long. I like long dresses - I always have. You know, now that I think about it, maybe I'll buy the material and a pattern. I have my sewing machine out here now. But I need to get to my point. Do you need to buy new clothes every time you pass a clothing store? Do you need to buy new clothes more than once a year? Do you need to buy NEW clothes every time?

What else do you buy? In an effort to save money, I go out of my way to make sure I don't have many monthly bills. I know you have an electric bill, but that would equal part of my gas expense. Many of you pay rent - well, sorry about that. So buy a house. Buy a trailer. Heck, buy an RV. Whatever, make your monthly payments purchase something permanent for you and your family, don't make it purchase something for someone else. I know - easier said than done.

What else do you pay for each month? We all have a phone, right? Me too - don't count the fact that my phone hasn't worked for the last two months - something I'm going to discuss with the phone company as soon as I can call them.

The worst and most useless expense in my opinion is cable TV. What's wrong with regular TV? Really? Do you really need a thousand channels? Buy a DVD. Sports, you say? I'm not a fan. Sorry, so I don't know what to tell you there. Cartoons? Have you watched any lately? Are they funny? Really? I haven't seen a funny cartoon in YEARS. And now paying a monthly internet bill is all the rage. grrrr

Enough of my rant about how you spend your dollars. How you do so is totally your business. This is just my way of trying to make you think about the value of these material things.

The biggest thing that makes me carefully consider what I buy, other than my limited income, is physically getting it here - even going shopping in the first place is something I need to consider. For you to go shopping, all you need to do is hop in your car and drive to the nearest mall. Ah the temptation of it all. For me to go shopping, I need to book a bush plane - $400+ out of my shopping budget right there just going to town. Then there's the taxi I need to take to the mall. Heaven forbid I need to make more than one stop, but of course I always do. If you spent $400+ to go to town and another $400+ to go back home, tell me you wouldn't go to every store you had to. So, since all that shopping takes a while, there's the overnight stay at a motel. Oh and also, if you're going to spend that much money, you should try to fill the plane for the return trip. What are you going to fill that plane with? The absolute necessities. ABSOLUTE necessities. No frills. The only luxury we generally allow ourselves is a stack of movies, maybe some ice cream, small things that don't take up much room. No cases of sodas. No fancy clothes. No bags of chips or sugary cereals. And the biggest no no - nothing that plugs in.

So tell me - what do you value? What is it about the things in your life that you can't possibly do without? Please, let me look into your corner of the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Bomb

I was reminded yesterday of what has to be the funniest thing that happens around here. For years, a friend of ours would fly around a few days before Thanksgiving, dropping off frozen turkeys to many of us who might not have been able to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner. I never knew who all he delivered to, but ever since we moved here, going somewhere before Thanksgiving was impossible for one reason or another.

Now, you may say, "What's so remarkable about a turkey delivery?" Other than the generosity of it all, that is. Well, as I said, he flew around dropping off frozen turkeys. Sorry about doing one of the biggest writerly faux pas by repeating myself, but this is significant. You see he didn't land to hand us the turkey, he dropped it out of the window as he flew over. I don't care how much snow is on the ground, a 25 pound turkey will punch right through it.

It was during these once yearly deliveries that our dog learned to search out these turkey bombs and from there she learned to watch the planes that buzzed us, waiting anxiously for whatever may come down so she could chase it and happily bring it back. She's never been able to manage a turkey bomb though, but she sure was instrumental in finding them. Bob would wrap each turkey in a large black garbage bag and tie a long red ribbon to it, but even with these obvious markers, after going through upwards of five feet of snow, there's not much left visible. More than once I've needed to strap on snowshoes and hike around looking for this illusive little hole in the snow.

Though he didn't call in advance, he did buzz over first, so we could get out in the yard to spot where the turkey landed. There would have been no finding it otherwise.

For those of you who don't know anything about snowshoes, walking in them is only part of the fun. Bringing a turkey up from under four to five feet of snow is like standing on the table and picking up a 25 pound something off the floor directly under your feet, knowing that if you got down on your hands and knees, standing again might be really very interesting if not impossible. Snowshoes will hold you up on that snow but your hands and knees won't. Do that and you're instantly too feet closer to the floor/ground and your feet are now up over your back. -> don't cheat, you can't back up so your knees are on the table. If you take your snowshoes off so you can kneel on them - well that's an option, but putting them back on in deep snow is another one of those interesting things about snowshoes.

Okay, now you've got your hands on this garbage bag with it's 25 pound weight, now you have to get yourself and your find back up on top of your snowshoes or back on your feet up there on the table. Just how flexible are you? Just how acrobatic are you? Now remember, you've just created a big hole in front of you getting that turkey up from the ground, so there's no such thing as stepping forward - do that and you stand a very good chance of doing a ballet on the toes of your snowshoes - probably only one of them - and if you're as good at ballet as I am, you'll join me face first in the snow. Fortunately, though I am nearly 200 pounds, I have always been very flexible - it helps.

The last couple years Bob hasn't been well enough to do all that flying so the turkeys were all delivered to some central location and phone calls went out to tell us all where to pick them up. As I've said before, going somewhere before Thanksgiving has almost always been impossible, and this year I don't even have a phone - it died. That's okay though; 25 pounds of turkey is a bit much for just the two of us. There's only so much you can do with all that meat before you get really tired of turkey.

Friday, November 19, 2010


As some of my Facebook friends already know, I made a miscalculation on how much gas we would need to get us through freeze-up. Normally, I bring home pretty much as much fuel as I can throughout the summer - ordering one or two barrels every time the barge comes to Riversong. This year we planned to go to Eagle River for much of the winter and I didn't want a bunch of fuel left here unattended; we are well off the river and out of sight, but why tempt fate if I didn't have to? When we went to Fairbanks to get my book published, we came back to our diesel fuel having gone all milky, and diesel, as far as I know, doesn't go bad in a few months. I'm still using that fuel in lamps and such.

Where I wanted only enough to get us through until we left, thinking we'd order more sometime during the winter, my husband had different thoughts. He wants enough here to also get us through break-up next spring - a commendable thought, but he could have said something. You see, we discovered that it's cheaper to have our fuel flown in in the winter than it is to get it off the barge. It's tons easier to manage too. Like everything else done in the winter, load the sled with eight or ten gas cans and away to the house we go. In the summer it's pump the gas out of the boat into another barrel and then tip that barrel on its side and roll it to somewhere off the immediate bank; standing it up again is a two-man job, especially for us old folks. Then it can be hauled to the house about four to six cans at a time provided the four-wheeler doesn't have any flat tires (our latest obstacle).

Now granted, we leave some gas down by the boats because of the boats, and sometimes we leave all of it there and only bring it up to the house as needed, but it still needs to be moved around multiple times in the summer. If we had enough barrels, I'd buy all our fuel in the winter. I'm going to be doing the math for that this year. I'd much rather get all our fuel in here in one fell shot and be done with worrying about it.

So, as it stands, we're down to less than a barrel of diesel, which is plenty, and less than a five gallon can of gas, which is the biggest problem. The miscalculation came about because of our newest toy - the internet. Where before, one tank of gas in our little generator was enough to fuel our entertainment devices and the battery charger, now, with the addition of a modem and a router to our power drain, the little generator barely breaks even with a little to spare for the charger with a tank and a half or even two tanks, depending on how late my husband stays up. He loves to play WoW and it seems the best connection is well after midnight. Me, I'm solar powered, and I run out of energy shortly after the sun goes down most nights. I last longer if I take a nap during the day.

The last couple of days, it has been hovering around zero Fahrenheit, and since our diesel generator is kinda old, it doesn't have a glow-plug. For those of you who don't know, a glow-plug heats up the cylinder making the explosion of the diesel more efficient and thus the motor starts easier. Once was the time we had a blower heater to heat the monster, but the igniter on that thing went belly-up. Getting a new heater is on the list (you should see my list. Some things have been on my list for years.) Now we are reduced to using a small propane heater. It's very small, and though it works, it barely competes with the cold temperatures.

So, since we're so short on fuel, our computers and the internet goes off for the bulk of the afternoon. What do we do with ourselves? you ask. I get that question a lot with no thought of the fuel it takes to keep us entertained. Lately we've managed to get mostly caught up on the Smallville episodes, now we just need season nine to be up to date. Yesterday, we just started watching Dark Angel. Do any of you remember that one? And when we wade through that one, maybe I'll get Don to listen to my Harry Potter books again, I have all of them. Eh, we'll see. I invested hundreds of dollars up in Fairbanks Barns & Nobel book store on audio books and we haven't listened to half of them. Maybe it'll be Dune. Any votes. Well, time to turn things off. Talk to you all later.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Going for a Walk

Today, I walked down to the boats for the first time since it snowed the first couple inches. I suppose the snow is about a foot or so deep now but I managed to chisel my husband out of the house to pack trails a few days ago, so I had a packed trail to walk on. I needed to go down and get the last of the gas out of the big boat's tanks - yeah, we're almost out.

Walking is my time for thinking, and since today was blog day, that's what I was thinking about. Where did my thoughts go? Winter of course. I love winter as any of you who have read my previous posts surely have guessed. Winter is quiet. Winter is clean and white, though by no means sterile.

Along the way I saw mouse tracks, I saw where a squirrel had crossed the trail definitely more than once as he jumped down from one tree, ran across the trail and up another tree, and then back, maybe three or four times. And I saw moose tracks.

Though life has become easier for me, life for them likely has not. The squirrel screwed up and put his stash in a tree he didn't live in, or maybe it was his intention, but did he forget that the trail is there? He couldn't have; it is where it has always been ever since we've moved here.

Maybe the mouse's life has become easier though. He no longer has to worry so much about aerial predators though Gizmo still dives after where she thinks they might be.

The moose, though, is different from them all. No food stores. No cozy hidy-hole. No comforting, if cold, buffer from the outside world. Moose need to keep moving, to keep eating. I thought to compare them to the buffalo who are also designed by nature to handle deep snow. In contrast though, where the buffalo was made to shove through the snow with powerful shoulders, the moose was designed with long legs, maybe some shoving still gets done but mostly they are designed to 'part the way' or step over it.

Life is really hard for moose babies. They are born small when compared to their mothers. Really short from chest to butt and yet oddly long from shoulder to ground. This thought reminded me of a Shetland pony colt born to the pony my dad got me for Christmas when I was a kid. It was such a tiny thing; I simply had to measure it. Amazingly enough that little guy was exactly two foot square - from chest to butt and from shoulder to ground - two feet each way. I will never forget that. A baby moose isn't much bigger really. Maybe a few inches longer in the body, and maybe twice that in length. They grow fast during that first summer, but come winter, they must be able to keep up with momma. And momma? Well momma doesn't always take the easiest route just because she has a little one around.

When the snow gets deep, moose trails can be found most anywhere. They are quite stubborn creatures, taking little thought as to where they are going or the best way to get there. Line of sight will do. This way. That way. This bush or that. Across the river, fine - away they go, frozen, not frozen, it doesn't seem to matter. When the snow gets really deep, chest deep on an adult moose, they will start to hang to snowmachine trails - they aren't entirely stupid - and late in winter, they will contest their rights to the trail if pushed too hard.

This winter, I'll be missing much of that. I like the wildlife. Sometimes I see an otter playing in the snow as he travels from wherever to wherever. Occasionally I see a coyote, but Gizmo doesn't allow them to get close, plus I think they avoid the place because of her, and perhaps our, scents and sounds.

Ravens are the funniest of my winter guests. Once was the time one particular raven would come and play with our dog, but Gizmo doesn't play well, so he doesn't come by so much anymore. Haha - that's a funny story. Remind me to tell you about it in my next post.

See ya then.

Ack - I just thought of another one. Remind me to tell you about the otter that decided to stay under the house for a few days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sound of - - - - Break-up

I bet you thought I was going to say 'music'. Well, keep that in mind, break-up is rather musical.

My sister sent a message to much of the rest of my family, telling them of my post about when my brothers came up here to visit. One thing she said was that, to me, my life seems mundane, even boring. Though not boring, to me my life is mundane. This is my life. These kinds of things happen all the time - sort of. That said, I love my life, and if your questions can prompt me to examine some part of my life in such a way that can allow you to share the experience, then I'm thrilled. In reply to that email, which included me this time, my brother wanted to know what breakup sounded like. So let's see if I can make you hear with words.

I've been hashing this over in my head for hours and the best word I can come up with is 'Pow'. That's Pow with a lot of emphasis on 'P', and the 'ow' rather foreshortened. Say it in your head with lots of 'P' and the 'ow' really short and you have most of the sound. Now, the next step is to imagine that sound coming from a drum, and that drum is in a large empty room - think echos and acoustics. Yeah, I'm getting into music.

With all that in mind, I need to talk a little about the ice. The river is a pretty big river I guess. Having grown up in the Great American Desert, my experience with rivers is rather limited, however, The Yentna is probably about as wide as your eight-lane highway and that's including the meridian in the middle. And as rivers go, there's a give and take on that width.

As we all know, ice expands as it freezes, and as rivers go, as ice freezes the water that's creating it is also going down - running away faster than it's freezing and faster than new spring water can feed it. However, the water doesn't run away too fast, else the ice would be left high and quite dry and very dangerous. During the course of freeze-up, as the ice builds in mass, it follows the dictates of gravity and eventually sags. If it sags enough, water is pushed up through cracks, if there are any, and around the edges. This water pools on the top of the ice and freezes, creating yet another layer of ice. This happens to some extent every time the temperature warms up. Warm temperature somewhere means some snow melted somewhere upriver which puts more water under the ice, but now that the ice is thick and heavy, the water has nowhere to go but on top. More ice is added on the bottom too during the coldest days. Ultimately, during the course of the winter, upwards of three feet of ice has accumulated. There's more some places and less some places but three feet is a good average.

Needless to say, three feet of ice is a lot of ice, and it takes quite a bit of force to break it, and it is exerting that force on itself all the time. That volume of ice trying to expand as ice does, creates a lot of force.

Along comes spring, longer days, warmer days, days that stay warmer longer, and along with that comes more water. As you all know ice floats, even huge volumes of ice like I've just described. However, by now all that ice is really stuck to the banks and leaking around the edges, though it happens quite a bit, can't happen fast enough. The ice breaks.

Now back to our sound and those drums. Have you ever watched a crack develop across a windshield? It starts with a rock thrown up by someone's tire, and then this line creeps across the glass, maybe it's a single line, maybe it grows fingers that also creep and grow. Ice does the same thing only pretty fast. In your imagination, place one of those drums along the ice at every potential corner, crinkle, and finger and at every joint of said finger. As soon as the first crack gives way, at the first drum's Pow, a domino effect occurs, and by the time the sound from one drum reaches the next one, it sounds off, and then the next, and then the next, all in a row, all echoing, and each one of them a tiny fraction of a different note.

Here we get into sound-waves. As sound travels away from you, the note gets lighter. If it is coming toward you, it gets heavier.

Standing on the edge of the river when the 'drums' sound off, whether it starts in front of you and runs off away up or down river, or whether is starts somewhere away from you and travels toward you, it has a profound affect on you. That echoing PowPowPow (the series may be as few as a handful or take as long as a minute) will enthrall, thrill and frighten you all at once. You are enthralled at the amazing sound, though no visible change took place in front of you. You are thrilled by the magnitude of power so displayed though you can scarcely grasp what that power really is. And you are frightened as the sound sends chills up your spine and goose-flesh down your arms.

All of this brings me to a story that happened to me during my first winter out here. We were care-taking at a lodge up Lake Creek and we'd made friends with the care-takers at Riversong across the Yentna. Now eventually both the care-takers at Riversong and us got snowmachines but I don't rightly remember if either of us had them yet. We probably did since there was a trail and it was more than a foot trail. Anyway, I like to walk, and for a reason I can't remember anymore, I was walking back from Riversong one nice day. I was out in the middle of that river, walking on upwards of likely more than three feet of ice and at least another several feet of snow - it was a REALLY heavy snow year that year thanks to Mount Readoubt - when the drums sounded off. PowPowPowPow - the sound traveled directly across in front of me, and then the ice under my feet dropped about six inches. In the front of my mind, I know that nothing the ice could do right now was a danger to me, but to have that much ice just go down, no matter the inches, under my feet was heart stopping. Needless to say, I froze in my tracks. A few feet in front of me I could see the crack - the trail now had a very visible step up.

The ice didn't break because of my presence, my weight was as a feather when compared to all that ice. The break would have happened whether I had made my trip five minutes earlier or later. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. There was no water, no danger at all and no further drum-roll, yet it took me what seemed like forever to start breathing again. No, I didn't hurry off the ice, I was in no danger, it was all so very awesome and I've never been so scared in my life. It is one of those experiences I will never forget.

I hope I was able to help you hear break-up. It really is something worth the experience.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting Supplies in the Fall

Getting supplies here is something that takes planning. Normally, I get about 95% of my supplies and fuel during the course of the summer. This winter, we plan to spend a few months in Eagle River with my son and his wife, and without someone here to keep the fire going, having things that could be damaged by freezing needs to be kept at a minimum. Having things that need to be kept frozen needs to be kept at a minimum too because there's no guarantee temperatures will remain below freezing. So, instead of bringing home cases of meats and vegetables and filling the freezer, I only ordered a few family packs to get us by for a couple months. Said damageables - those that are left over when we leave - will go to town with us.

This plan to go to town, made ordering supplies during the summer next to impossible. I was able to order a few things, but I was reluctant to burden my boss with a bunch of shopping - she just loves to go shopping. Therefore, what I needed to do was get my supplies later and by a different avenue.

Later came yesterday, and my husband thought you all might be interested in reading about it.

Denali Flying Service flies for us frequently - fuel, transportation, and even supplies. They are a family owned business and Kirstin runs the office and does the expediting while Berry does the flying. Earlier this week, I called in my order and Berry flew it out yesterday at four in the afternoon. Earlier in the day would have been nice - to give us more time to get it all to the house, but that was the available slot.

When you all go shopping, you load your shopping cart with your goodies, pay for it at the cashier's counter then wheel it out to your car. After you drive home, it's a simple matter of carrying the handy-dandy little white shopping bags into the house and putting your purchases away. And what is under your feet all this time? Nice smooth linoleum floor in the store. Asphalt in the parking lot. Sidewalk on the way to the house. Please, keep that in mind as you read on. I didn't get the pleasure of doing my own shopping, so all things linoleum and asphalt or concrete was not for me to enjoy.

My husband and I discussed distances. We've never had a machine, ATV or snowmachine, that had a working odometer until now, so I always told everyone that it was a quarter mile from the house to the boat. It takes me about ten minutes or so to walk it and I seldom hurry. However, my husband says that our new snowmachine has a working odometer and it says that walk is about half a mile. I also googled it and I guess I've been wrong all these years. About half a mile it is.

From that point to where Berry can land the plane, is another ten or so minute walk, so that's another half mile, though that second half mile is no stroll. I had to cross a little creek. It isn't very wide, a couple steps worth is all, but I'm not one to jump across, and getting my feet wet when the water is near freezing is not a smart alternative. We have a little twelve foot, flat-bottom boat that's easy to move around, so guess what - instant bridge. My little bridge has been across that creek for about a week now - I needed to check the gravel bar to make sure it was clear of sticks and such so Berry could land safely.

Yesterday, we left the house at 3:30. Since our four-wheeler's once flat tire was flat again, we took the snowmachine down with a small sled on behind (no, there is no snow yet). At the boats, there's a hill to go down, and since my boat is still in the middle of everything, the snowmachine had to stay at the top of the hill. We walked down the hill and across the my little bridge, and then we drug the little boat across to the slough. My husband paddled down to the gravel-bar while I walked along the bank. As banks go, it was not level - maybe fifteen or twenty degrees. And all of it is littered with melon-sized rocks and smaller - prime ankle-twister territory, but none of it is loose, nor is it slippery since all the rocks are dusted with left-over river silt. Along the way is also two now high and dry sweepers - thankfully, the water was low enough to make getting past these two obstacles relatively easy. Though my husband had the easy trip, I made it to the gravel-bar before he did and at the same time Berry landed. Perfect timing - almost never happens.

After unloading the nice little white bags, boxes of vegetables, and various jugs of motor oil and cooking oil, we chatted for a few minutes, catching up on the happenings in Berry's life. New computer, face-lift time for the plane - the usual. Then he was off.

We loaded our supplies into the boat - I carried the eggs, and then it was the trip in reverse for us. Don paddled the boat and I walked. The slough is very low, but there's still a bit of current, not much since any water coming into the slough is likely filtering through the gravel up at the mouth, but enough to make paddling harder going this direction. However, Don discovered that much of the route he was taking, had, over the years, filled in, enabling him to pole as much as paddle.

Back at the beginning of that part of our journey, we unloaded the boat and carried our supplies to the little creek, then we had to drag the boat over and recreate my little bridge. At this point some things could be handed across and some things could be tossed, but there were still things that had to be carried every step of the way. Just so you know, the level of the water is eight to ten feet below normal traveling water levels so my little bridge over it's little creek is on the bottom of the river. That said, all these supplies had to be carried up the bank to where I have the boats parked for the winter. The last thing to come up was my little bridge. Have we worked hard enough yet? We're only half way home.

I brought my kiddy sled to help with this part and it was up the last hill and to the snowmachine. In my sled went boxes and heavy bags and my husband carried those items that had handles. Between the two of us we each made four trips up and down that hill and there's still a 60 lb bag of dog-food down there. I'll get it tomorrow with my kiddy sled.

Now it was the half mile trip back to the house. My husband drove - I walked, in my kiddy sled was the eggs, the ramen and creamer. The ramen was crushable, the creamer didn't have any handles to thread a bungee-cord through, and of course there was the eggs. Once I reached the house, we took a few minutes break, and then it was carting it all in. Huge sigh here. The task is done and we're all tucked in and cozy until we head to town.

Needless to say, I was too tired to do much editing, so I did a little Facebook, cooked supper in the oven, and then it was off to bed for me. Also needless to say, if I can avoid this scenario, I do. Though we almost always get some supplies in this manner, I usually do this much later so we can use the snowmachine to haul everything, including me, all the way from the plane to the house. MUCH easier.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Day in my Life

A teacher friend of mine wanted to know what a day in my life was like. I told her to let me think on it a couple days and then I'd put something up - I must apologize for taking so long. Describing a day in my life isn't an easy task. My day is not your average work-a-day schedule. Sure, I have the normal daily tasks and they happen at normal times of the day, but even in those things, the changing seasons have an effect. My mornings are likely the most stable part of my day. Regardless of the season, pretty much the first thing I do is make coffee, check my emails and do my advertising on Facebook and Twitter. After that, the seasons play tiddlywinks with my daily schedule.

In the summer - from June to roughly the first part of September - I leave for work at seven in the morning. Returning home after work is a mite flexible, but mostly I leave there at five, or when I run out of work, whichever comes first. This concrete part of my life dictates my summer mornings, and now that I have internet, I get up at five, which gives me two hours for my morning ritual. As soon as I get back home, once again, I catch up on my emails, but also during that time, I'm fixing supper and possibly doing a few homely chores. On my one day a week off, I burn trash, wash dishes maybe clean the house a bit, whatever comes up that needs doing. Frankly, during the summer, my day seems really crunched.

During the winter, my day is much more relaxed. My morning starts at dawn, which isn't so bad since dawn is around eight in the morning this time of year. Once again I fix coffee, check my emails and do my advertising, but also mixed into my mornings, now that it's freezing at night, I go out and split up an armload of firewood. As it gets colder, that chore will migrate to the afternoon so I don't have to go out first thing in the morning before coffee.

Long around noonish, the battery on my computer is about run out so I go out and start the generator. I treat myself to a couple Facebook games for an hour or two and then I spend another hour or two on homely chores, whatever needs doing. This is usually the time of year when I dig into the corners of the house and scrape out the year's accumulation of gunk. This year I scrubbed walls too. (I don't do that every year, but I suppose I really should.) As soon as whatever chore I set for myself is finished for the day, I once again sit down in front of my computer. I quickly check through my emails again but really I'm checking for comments on my blogs and catching up on Goodreads, then it's on to writing or editing. Currently it's mostly editing, but once in a while I get a bur and need to write down an idea to be developed later. This sometimes happens in the middle of the night too. I love writing in the middle of the night - it's so quiet.

Supper and after also happens in front of the computer, and if my husband can leave the TV off (never), it's back to editing or writing for me. If the TV connection sucks (80-90% of the time), he demands a movie (DVD). If I get wrapped up in the movie, I'll usually go back to Facebook and one of my games or I'll go to Goodreads and chat with my friends there.

Usually, somewhere between ten at night and midnight, I fold and it's off to bed for me to begin it all again tomorrow.

Well folks, that's a simplified look at my day. There are always little events waiting around the corner to throw a monkey-wrench into whatever I might develop for a schedule, but as you can see, the most important thing I try to do revolves around my writing, the rest is unfortunately necessary and therefore must be done at some point.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I've Got Mail - Maybe

I’ve gotten more mail in the last year and a half than I’ve ever gotten all together in my life, but it’s all email. Getting regular mail, or snail mail, as it’s come to be called, is difficult to say the least. When the kids were going to school, it was merely an issue of making an extra stop after school, but even so mail only came twice a week. Back then, we took great pains to not have monthly bills; the only one we had was the phone bill and we kept that one paid over the phone, we still do. The rest of the mail was just junk mail anyway most of the time. There were the occasional Christmas cards from assorted family but all in all, there was really very little.

Now that the kids are grown and gone, getting the mail is not so easy. With the post office being over twenty-seven miles up river, and since I just don’t get that direction any more, going to the post office has to be a planned affair. I’m old and lazy these days so the trip pretty much kills my day. During the summer, it’s a two or more hour run up there, a delightful chat with Joe, the Post Master and maybe a nice visit with Norma, his wife, and then it’s another two hour trip home - faster going down river, but really, it’s not different enough to calculate - maybe twenty minutes faster going home than going up - I never really did the math. Of course you have to remember that during the summer, I’m also working at least six days a week. Now really, on my one day off, do you think I want to spend it running to the post office? As it is, I have six days of chores at home to catch up on.

Sometimes, my husband will check out the fishing up river and he will stop in at the post office when he does. Sometimes my boss does the same thing and he’ll pick up my mail too. Everyone loves Joe, and everyone likes to show off our unique post office. Occasionally some of my other assorted neighbors will collect the river mail and deliver it down the river and sometimes someone will bring mine over to work for me. It’s always a nice pleasure when that happens. All in all, if I can’t get my mail brought down to me, I don’t go get it until I can do it by snowmachine. It’s still a long trip, but I can pick my day, a nice sunny day. I can bundle up, put my sunglasses on if the sun’s shining, and toodle on up at a comfortable speed, enjoying the view as I go. I suppose I really should be more sociable on these trips but really, I just want to get there and get home. I really am kind of lazy when it comes to that sort of thing and I never have been a visiting kind of person.

There are great chunks of the year when a trip to the post office, or anywhere for that matter, is quite impossible. From somewhere in September usually to somewhere in December if I’m lucky the water goes down too far to travel by boat and I need to wait until we get a couple feet of snow before we can go anywhere by snowmachine. You see, down Twentymile Slough, where I live, there is at least two places where we need to shovel ramps in order to get on and off the river. One ramp is right here where we park the boats. That gets us down onto the river, but Twentymile Slough is a wicked witch sometimes and there is one place between us and the Yentna River where it only freezes over safe enough for travel at like twenty below (that’s Fahrenheit) (roughly -50C). So, rather than wrestle with this spot, we go around it, which calls for another ramp.

Breaking a trail all the way out of here is more than just shoveling those ramps. You need to be somewhat skilled at driving a snowmachine in powder snow, not my strong point. That’s Don’s department; I’m the one who gets to do the shoveling. Along with the first ramp, we generally pack and mark a runway down on the river, so while I’m shoveling, Don’s going up and down the river, packing the runway.

I shovel some and then walk down and up it to pack it some and then shovel some more. I keep doing that until I can walk up it without crawling, then Don drives up and down it a time or two. Maybe there’s some more shoveling, but generally, if I can walk it more or less, it’s good enough for the machine to make it up. Then it’s a day or two to let it harden. When we’ve recovered enough from doing that, it’s the seven-mile trip out to the main river, the Yentna, with its one necessary ramp about halfway there.

My laziness factor comes into effect here too. Once was the time when I would get a couple week’s work at the lodge during the Iditarod, but that hasn’t happened for a few years now, so the need to break that trail out comes down to my one post office run. Yeah, I only go up there once. Yeah, I’m that lazy, but really, I never have that much to go up there after. And it’s not as if we get a lot of visitors. In all the time we’ve lived down here, we’ve only had a handful of visitors stop in and that’s not counting the neighbors who live down here - two, one who long since moved down to the lower 48 and our next door neighbor who only comes out on holidays - he stops in at least once every winter.

At any rate, my need to break out a trail I’ll use only once is really rather slim. I think, now that my son is living in Eagle River, I’ll change my mailing address. It will be a lot easier for him to drop our mail off at a plane coming our way than for me to do all that work for a leisurely toodle to the post office.

In the spring, from somewhere in April to somewhere near the end of May, the river is once again untravelable. In April the sun in the afternoon is starting to do its work on the snow and the trails start getting soft - sink far enough and you hit melt water on top of the ice. At this time of year, you only have to sink a few inches to see water. There’s still plenty of ice down there, but you can still get stuck if you’re not careful, and I’m not strong enough to get unstuck. Walking on a trail that’s soft enough where a snow machine sinks is impossible unless you want to get wet up to your knees or higher - I see myself crawling. I don’t let myself get into that kind of situation.

Sometime around the end of April or first part of May, enough water has melted to float the ice - breakup, we call it. The ice will lift up, break apart and get carried down the river. This can be a very dangerous part of the year. The ice will jam up somewhere and the water behind it will build up, sometimes to near flood level. It did that here a couple years ago. I had to go down and babysit the boats. Not that they were in much danger of being carried away, but I wanted to ensure that they remained in the river when the water went back down. They kept drifting to the side, which would have left them high and dry, and so much harder to launch. As long as they were in the river, it didn’t matter if the water going down left them sitting on the bottom again, they wouldn’t be that way for long.

When the water rises high enough to lift the ice over whatever obstacle it was caught on, the whole thing gushes down to the next obstacle where the process starts all over again. The further these jams get down river, the less affect they have on what’s left behind, and all the time, both the sun and the water is eating away at the ice. This has all passed by the end of May and enough snow has melted to bring the water level back up to normal, or up far enough where travel by boat is again possible, and very shortly after that, I’m off to work again.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Spring come Summer

Originally posted on my primary blog on May 7, 2010. As a window into my life, it belongs here.


Only seven days ago, I was complaining about spring yuck - now it's almost over. There's only a few spots of snow left, and the frost heaves along the trail are rapidly melting. They'll be muddy for a little while, but they're easy enough to walk around. I had to cut off the tops of a pair of hip waders so I could cross the little runoff creek that crosses the trail but the water is only ankle deep and it too will be gone soon enough.

I walk down to the river now every day, to check on the water level and to make sure the boats are alright. Yesterday, we had our first thunderstorm of the season but the rain didn't last long. The day before, or rather that night, it rained pretty heavy for part of the night. Now, though less than half of my water buckets, carefully filled with melted snow, was available, they are now three quarters full of rain water. It's always a gamble to see if I make the gap between enough snow to melt and either the first rains or until I can get to work. The well there is too deep to freeze, and even if there isn't water to all the buildings, there's water at the well and I can bring some home in jugs. It's what I do for water during the summer if it doesn't rain enough.

The last few days, I've been able to go out and do some raking. Always, in the spring, I regret being so lazy during the winter, but always, at the end of summer, I'm so ready to be lazy for the winter.

Today I chopped some wild rose bushes and elders out of what used to be my strawberry patch. We'll have to see just how many strawberries are left there. Not really much of a problem though. Over the years, they've spread quite a ways into the lawn surrounding the place. If there aren't many on the mound, I'll just have to do some transplanting.

I also trimmed a bunch of baby birch trees from around a stump, leaving one, the prettiest one, to grow. It was all a task I'd put off for too long. I also uncovered some rocks I'd put there ages ago; they now line my flower garden. Since my iris are sprouting already, I'll have to clean that up soon - maybe tomorrow.

Such is another look at my life. I'll be starting to work soon. Maybe I'll talk about that some too.

A Spring Rant

Originally posted on my primary blog on May 1, 2010. This blog didn't exist then.


Here at the end of April the beginning of May, I thought I'd give a bit of a rant. In case you haven't caught on yet, I don't really care much for spring. Oh yes, April showers bring May flowers and all that, but for me, that never really quite happens. For me the snows are melting quickly, leaving behind soggy ground and months worth of man's sins. Out here, 'man's sins' are few and far between, but in the cities and towns, they're everywhere. There's the little plastic shopping bags dangling from a bush or a fence, invisible under the snow all winter long. There's the bag of trash that some dog tore up before it got to the dumpster and never completely picked up (if at all). It's as if no one wants to touch trash after it's gone into a trash-bag once. At that point it suddenly becomes totally contaminated - life threatening if ever touched again without a full-body contamination suit like you see on TV. Then the snow melts away, revealing plastic water or juice bottles, or chip bags, or used paper towels, or the empty soda cans. We all know what we throw away. All the little wrappers, boxes, papers, clippings, and even hair from a trim, now all becoming visible as the snow melts away.

Currently, out in my soggy front yard, littered with snowmachines that have yet to be put away for the summer, is a carpet of dog hair. Last December and January, my dog decided it was time to shed. She'd go in and out several times a day and scrub her body in the snow - she really loves doing that. I think it's a doggy version of a bath. I'd give her a bath more often but without running water, it's really quite difficult and the creek water is very cold. She generally gets one in the summer though, when the water is a little warmer and I can make her fetch a stick from the creek. She really does love to fetch and it really must be that stick. At any rate, two or three plunges and she's thoroughly rinsed. But that was way last summer. Last winter, along with her gleeful scrubbing in the new snow, which left behind a brown spot, she apparently left behind far more hair than I was aware. I knew she was shedding, I even went out and combed her a time or two, but she really hates being combed and seldom holds still for it, so I knew about that hair, but really, someone could weave a living room rug from all the hair out there. What did she do, molt?

For years, my husband wanted a stack of firewood here in front of the house, convenient for splitting and stuffing in the stove only steps from the door. And since we generally cut a tree at a time that idea was fine by me. So for years, long about now, or a little later when the ground is dryer, I'd rake up all the chips of wood and bark left behind by that chore. This year, what with LOTS of cut wood, there was no way I was going to have all that wood in front of the house so room was made in the long neglected woodshed. Well, tired of my spring ritual of raking up wood chips and bark in front of the house, I figured what better place for that mess than in front of the woodshed where, for the most part, it can stay. Deep heavy sigh here, I still have to rake the front yard. I wonder if hair rakes up any easier than bark.

So yeah, spring, for me, is the ugliest time of year. The snow is no longer white as all its accumulated dust is now on the surface. Nothing is green yet. You can't walk anywhere without getting your shoes full of snow or slipping and sliding all over the place. I did manage to make it down to the boats and made sure all the plugs were in, so when the river comes up they'll float. There's certainly no driving a snowmachine down there. Well actually, that's not quite true. If we REALLY had to, we could drive down there, but that would be driving through mud on both ends and having to turn the machine around by hand on that end - not fun.

My walk was not a stroll in the park. It was very slow and diligent, every step had to be taken with care. I even took my snowshoes, just in case. You see, there's this one part where, when it fills with spring snow-melt runoff, the icy water is generally around three feet deep. This is the place I had brought my snowshoes for. I knew the trail would still be there, but that didn't mean that the water under that trail wasn't deep. As it turns out, no water yet. Back to the walk. Since the trail goes through the woods, it's still about a foot or so deep in most places, but it was soft. I was lucky, most of the time the trail held me up, but there were plenty of times when it didn't and the foot doesn't always go straight down. It's not so bad when the foot slips forward - you gain a few inches. It's a little irritating when the foot slips backward - those two or three inches make a difference. It's awkward as hell when the foot slips out - I mean, how much have you had to drink? The absolute worst is when the foot slips in, under you, it's all you can do to not end up in a heap, there's just no way you can get your other foot over there where it needs to be to keep you off the ground. But that's not the only frustrations of walking this time of year. There's the deceptively solid trail that suddenly decides not to be so solid, only after you've trusted your body and soul to its strength - then you go down that foot or so rather abruptly, and you may or may not encounter one of the slippery problems enumerated above. This always happens right after you've lifted one foot to put it in front of the other, so once again, you're left staggering. You really should try paying attention to each and every step for a quarter mile, though I don't recommend you do it in snow your first time. It can so easily develop into a cussing issue if I was a cussing kind of person. For those of you trying it along your nice safe sidewalks, I'll give you the first dozen steps or so before something (very small) distracts you and you don't think about the next step or two. I totally understand. It's really very boring. It's not unlike walking heel to toe along a line that's not at all straight, but at least you have a task to hold your concentration there.

Ah, but that's enough of my rant about spring. Summer will come soon enough and the trees will start shedding their pollen, and then I'll be miserable for a healthy half of the summer. If I didn't love my job I'd hate summer too.

A Sample of my Day

Today, October 1, 2010

A few days ago, the water finally went down far enough that my boat was sitting in the mud. The nights had been freezing - not really hard but still freezing, and I didn't want my boat to freeze down in the mud, so after two long hours of come-along-ing I finally got my boat up on rollers, out of the mud and on it's way up the bank. Those were two very long hours involving ratcheting on the come-along a few clicks and then going down the bank to the boat and moving it with a pry-bar, hoping that it moved forward an inch or two. Then it was up the bank to the come-along and a few more ratchets and back down again. Up and down, up and down, up and down. When I got back to the house, I was amazed I had spent only two hours down there.

Today, after three days of drizzle and rain, I went back down to the dock not only to check on the boat but to bring back gas. I'll talk about that task in a bit. One thing at a time.

Well, what with all the rain, the water had come up a few inches. Not that it was touching the boat, but still, why not. I decided to bring the boat up a few inches. Six clicks on the come-along and the boat scooted forward an inch or so. Ooh, so easy. So I decided I would bring the boat all the way up to flat ground. Click, click, click, it slid right up. Then I ran out of cable, so I loosened it up to get a new grip on the anchor rope or hopefully on the boat itself. Easy up - easy down. Just as I was almost ready to unhook the come-along to move it, the boat slid back down the bank to the bottom. No danger, no damage, just frustration. *Sigh* Click, click, click, back up the bank, a little farther this time. This time, when I ran out of cable, I took the loose anchor rope and tied it around the tree the come-along was attached to. Now even if the boat slipped, it couldn't go very far. V e r y c a r e f u l l y I loosened the come-along. Yeah, it slipped but the rope held and I got my re-hook on the boat itself. After that, click, click, click, the boat came right on up, until it tipped down to sit flat. I recovered all my rollers from being embedded in the mud - a successful task almost completed. All that's left is to move it out of the way of the trail the snowmachine will need to use.

That done, I looked up and saw the sky threatening to clear off, meaning a possible freeze again tonight. All the boats here have their plugs out so they don't collect water - all except one. My son's boat somehow during it's lifetime has had it's drain plug smashed closed and even though a plug still fits in the hole no water comes or goes there any more. So, with a threatening freeze, I decided to bail that boat out. Then it was on to my original task which was to haul gas back to the house.

Last June our 4-wheeler had a flat tire. The poor thing is ancient and the tires have leaked for years now. Getting them fixed was inconvenient to say the least. We just kept a can of Fix-a-flat around. This time, in filling the tire, the stem simply twisted off - instant flat. After some deliberation and some procrastinating, my husband came up with a way to fix it with a bolt and some silicone, then he drilled a tiny hole in the rubber and filled the tire with the rest of the Fix-a-flat like you'd fill a basketball. Worked great except that there wasn't enough Fix-a-flat left to actually fill the tire. Now 4-wheeler tires are supposed to be kinda soft anyway, but not that soft. Ah well, it worked. Day before yesterday I decided it was time to bring the propanes up to the house. If the rain was going to turn into snow, the 4-wheeler would be useless and the task impossible until enough snow fell to make using the snowmachine possible, and by then I hoped to have the boat up, which would make using the snowmachine . . . well, not impossible, but not easy.

I noticed that the tire was really low, the cold air was eating at the air volume and it was likely the patch was leaking ever so little. So when the propanes were all up here, I decided to park the 4-wheeler. Hence my bringing the gas up by hand, ten gallons at a time using a little kiddy sled. It's work, but exercise is good. I can always hope it will burn off a little of my extra weight. It hasn't happened yet, but I can always hope. So, for the next few days, I'll walk down to the boats and get a couple cans of gas and haul them back to the house. That's six trips for one barrel and maybe a couple more trips for what's left of the diesel. Who knows, maybe by then I'll have snow on the ground to make the sled actually slide.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Driving in the Fog

You might think that driving in the fog is no big deal. Maybe a little frustrating cause you should slow down just in case the guy in front of you is going slow, provided there is a guy in front of you. I mean, after all you have that nice line on one side that tells you where the edge of the road in and a nice dotted line that tells you where the middle of the road is, and if you stay between those two lines, all you have to worry about is the slow poke in front of you.

Course, if you're driving in the fog, you're an idiot. Now, before you get angry at me, please know that I add myself to the idiot list. You see, many's the times this time of year, when I drive to work in the fog; I'm sure we all do, even when it's really bad. But for me it's even worse. There are no nice neat lines on the water to tell me when I'm too close to the bank or crossing to the wrong side of the river. There is no wrong side of the river. The goal is to simply stay in the water and miss the other guy or whatever other obstacle may be just floating along. In the fog, that might be rather interesting.

Most of the time, I can spot the tops of the trees and can identify them by their familiar profile. The swirls and circles in the current are also quite familiar, I'm even thinking of giving them all names, they're so familiar. Pass George on the right side but keep Pete on the left. Stay far away from Betsy and start to turn left at 666, but don't drive over it cause 666 likes props. Ah well, it's an idea. Should I give the swirls in the water female names and the trees male names? Or should I do it the other way around? Na, I'm terrible with names anyway so I guess I'll just stick with keeping them in sight and where they're supposed to be.

And if there is some dark shadow looming in front of me, I give it a wide berth. I'd really rather not play chicken with a floating tree, or even part of one. Now, if you're flying in the fog, you're an even bigger idiot than I am. I met (sorta) one of those idiots once and it was lucky I'm sitting here telling you about it.

One day, years ago, my son and I were driving up the river in serious pea-soup fog. We could scarcely see a boat length in front of us and the tree tops were nowhere to be found. We were forced to drift first to one side until we could see where we were and then angle to the other side for another ghostly landmark. Suddenly, we hear a plane rev up for take off. From where he was, the only direction he had to go was right over us and there was no telling how close he was to us. For him to assume that the river was clear was pure idiocy. He couldn't see us, or even hear us inside his cockpit and certainly not over his motor.

We dove for the side of the river, willing to run aground if we had to, to get out of his path. We made it, barely, and he made it off the water before he reached our area, but if he'd been loaded, and if we'd picked the wrong direction, my son and I could have just as easily been splattered all over the river, never to be found or even missed until we were too late for work and someone called home to see if we were having motor troubles or something.

I think I managed to produce a couple gray hairs that day. I've only been so scared one other day and that was on a bright clear day. I'll save that story for another post.

So, to all you pilots out there who may be reading this someday, remember this one word. "Assume" Remember it by saying to yourself, "When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'you' and 'me'. I never could figure out where the 'me' came in, but if you're assuming something, you're definitely making an 'ass' out of you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lessons in People

A couple years after we moved here, this huge grizzly mama would come by bringing her cubs. We could tell she was around; the dog would go out to pee and her nose would go up and she'd be on the alert for the rest of the day, even when she was in the house.

This sow cased the place for a day or two, and then she would show herself at the far edge of our clearing, off in the tall grass and brush. All we could see of her was her head and shoulders. She'd stay there, calm as can be, while her cubs came on into the yard to explore.

At the time, and until a couple years ago, I had chickens, and at that time, I had a couple ducks too. These cubs really wanted to 'play' with those interesting smelling creatures in that little house. Now, at that time, I happened to have five roosters, and since it was time for the hens to be sitting on their eggs, and since the roosters would bug them unmercifully, I had left them out in the pen during the night. They were perching on a rail about four feet off the ground when the cubs managed to break down the gate to the pen. They were after the ducks and they got one.

During this hoopla, the roosters were very quiet, but as one of the cubs ran back to mom with his prize, one of the roosters shifted and fluttered. It was enough to get the attention of the other cub.

Now, to make this story even more humorous, I have to tell you a side tale. My roosters varied in size. They were all bantams. I'm not good with weights so I'll have to give you dimensions. I handle all my roosters so they were quite gentle for the most part. The smallest was barely more than a single handful; he was simply all feathers. Because of his size, the others always picked on him, fighting with him every time they saw him and running him off from anything he was eating. It got so bad that I was hand feeding him. I mean, he was so cute and so little.

Back to the bear cub. It was the littlest rooster who moved, and now that he'd been noticed, he jumped down from the perch and started to run. He ran like I'd never seen a chicken run, dodging and darting this way and that, staying just out of reach. The cub was doing his best to catch this seemingly easy target, after all, it didn't fly away, it had to be easy, right.

We were watching this little drama from our window; it was the commotion concerning the duck that alerted us to trouble, and remember, momma was standing out there on the edge of the yard, just watching. Don, in an effort to save my favorite rooster AND not kill a bear, cub or not (to kill that cub would have been so much trouble 'cause mama likely wouldn't have left at all then), was trying to get a bead on a point really close to the cub. He could have been writing cuss-words in cursive with the barrel of that rifle, that's how fast and convoluted the cub was moving.

Finally, he took a shot and succeeded in kicking some dirt up, scaring the cub away, breaking off the chase. The cub went crying to mama. He wasn't really crying but he did need a little consoling, then there was a duck prize to play with as they left. This year's lesson in people complete.

Back to my littlest rooster. Well, he'd run off a real bear. None of the other rooster could say the same. They had all stayed hidden on their perch during the entire ordeal. Never again did the other roosters get away with picking on him. He was cock of the walk after that. He was the one who did the picking. It was really funny seeing him face down his bigger brothers.

Now, notice the title once again, notice that it is plural. Mama Grizzly came back several different times. These cubs came back at least one more time, and she brought another pair of cubs by too. One visit each time; she was never an obnoxious visitor and she herself never ventured too close, nor did she ever come by alone. She did, however come close enough to mark one of our trees. One morning we discovered claw marks - the bottom of the scratches were nearly a foot above where the tallest of us could reach.

Her cubs never made it into the chicken house or it's pen again, though not for want of trying. We never had to shoot at them again either. It's as if mama brought her cubs by for a lesson on people, and as soon as they were bored with the lesson, she'd lead them away.

I haven't seen her for many years now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons in Bear

One day, a friend of ours talked us into taking a dog someone she knew was going to send to the pound. I guess they had this dog and one of her puppies but they could only have one dog. Tilly was an Australian sheep dog. She was a nice dog, and I think she did her best to please. I was her person, though I swear I don't know why, maybe because I'm the one who doles out the chow on a regular basis.

After we got Tilly out here, we discovered that being a good bear dog doesn't always come naturally. Being a sheep dog, she was bred to herd and was very happy to keep pushing my ducks around whenever she saw them. Course when she cornered them, she really wanted to do so much more than just herd them. "No" generally had to be enforced, but giving up wasn't one of her strong points.

When her first bear wandered into our yard, I firmly believe that Tilly panicked. Never before had she seen another animal bigger than she was, and if she had, it certainly wasn't that big. She didn't bark. She instantly turned tail and beat feet for the house. Nor did she stop to scratch at the door. Like a battering ram on four short legs, she rammed into the door, which fortunately for her, doesn't have a latch.

It took us a couple minutes to figure out why she came in so fast. It really was so funny.

But then a black bear came around and this one kept coming around. Since this bear was properly shy, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try to teach Tilly what to do when a bear (or moose) comes around. After she came blasting in the house, I took her back out with me. I stood in the middle of the yard and barked at the bear, and the bear ran off. I felt like an idiot, but it was obvious Tilly was doing a lot of thinking. She'd look at the retreating bear and then at me and back again.

The bear came back a couple days later and I did it again, winning a timid "woof" from Tilly as well, and once again, the bear left. Ooh now Tilly was feeling pretty important.

Now, you must understand, I have a rule when it comes to bears hanging around, I had a family here and bears that kept coming around, especially when I was so careful about trash and garbage, were trouble bears. If they go away, that's fine. If they keep coming back - third time's it.

Well, said bear came around yet again and this time was it. I took my 30.06 out with the dog. Apparently, the bear had a three time limit too. It was no longer frightened by my barking and of course Tilly wasn't very bold in the barking department yet.

I'm not a bad shot with a rifle. The bear was down after one shot. I was a little concerned about Tilly's reaction to the gun, but it was another thing for her to think about "Big bang = dead scary thingy". She was right by my side as we walked up to the bear.

Unfortunately, I never learned whether her lessons were learned. Very shortly after that, she bit my husband over the duck. He was trying to stop her from killing the duck and she bit him. He has no tolerance for a dog who bites a member of the family and neither did I. It could just as well have been one of my boys. Tilly never saw another sunrise, or even the end of that day for that matter. She was gone by the time I got home from work.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Unsuspecting Family

My brothers, Jon and Mike, decided to come visit us one fall, only they wanted to surprise us. It seems they found a map somewhere that showed a road coming out here. I don't know where that map was, but believe me there is no road out here and won't be one any time soon. The closest thing that qualifies as a road is about 3 miles long from one end to the other and is located 15 miles up river from here. The end of car civilization, or even 4x4 truck-ability is over 60 miles down river from here.

I'm not sure how they managed it, but they got a hold of our neighbors. Our neighbors are only 3 miles away. Not far, you say. No it isn't, but it is through totally undomesticated wilderness. Now, this is nothing new to Jon; he's trekked through a lot of uncharted wilderness around the world, but still, Alaska wilderness is not some place you just hair off into. At any rate, our neighbors talked them out of the surprise and we picked them up from the plane.

I think for them I was still 'little sister', and all I could do was ride a horse bareback. When they brought home a bunch of trout and I set those golden brown, fresh caught fish in front of them for supper, they were surprised. Wow, little sister can cook! I cooked up every fish they brought home that day, cause trout doesn't freeze well. Two trout per plate - those guys went to bed soundly stuffed.

I get ahead of myself a little. Picture this: my house is very small, but then it was even smaller - we've added a bedroom since they were here. At the time our house was 12'X20' with a short loft on each end - one for each boy. The boys bunked together in Christopher's room and Jon and Mike took the other. With two extra, full-grown men in the house, there wasn't much room to move around any more. Fortunately, my brothers were interested in learning about our life which meant going outside.

Don gave them the tour of the yard and they talked saw mill and lumber, snowmachines, boat motors and ATVs.

At the time, I had a bear head plus the hide in the freezer. I don't remember why I had left the head in the hide but I decided that since my brothers were here, I'd get the thing out and finish skinning out the skull. Yeah, I wanted to show off for my brothers. I could do more than cook trout. Since it was frozen, I hung it from the rafters to thaw and unroll. When they came home from fishing, it was mostly unrolled but still too frozen to do anything with. I think they were stunned but I can't say for sure. I mean, how many of you can say your little sister can skin a bear? Ultimately the claws were set in silver and gifted to family members. My mom had certificates made up to go with each claw saying I shot the bear. It wasn't true, and she knew it, but it sounded good. I still have that skull.

One day, shortly before they left, we decided to take them on the walk they had been planning to take when they came. It would have been easy. There's a size-line between us and our neighbor's place - a cut in the trees, straight as an arrow. Getting lost wasn't what our neighbors were worried about.

Not far from our place was the first obstacle - a shallow ravine, not impossible to cross, but there's an easier way. This is the way the boys take with a snowmachine so, even though it's the height of summer, somewhat of a trail remains, plus, much of the way is a game trail anyway. Outside of that, grass, fireweed and assorted berry bushes and brush is all six foot plus tall and of course the trees are close together and towering. Almost all of us were armed. Don, myself and Donnie all had pistols on our hips, and a 30.06 was passed around to whoever wanted to carry it at the time. I think Jon and Mike were expecting a bear to jump out of the underbrush at any moment. I wasn't too concerned. We were making enough racket to drive any self respecting bear far away, but there was no point in pressing luck.

At one point along the trail, the boys succeeded in getting their uncles hunkered down close over one of the many freshly dug mouse holes. I couldn't hear what was being said, but whatever it was, Jon and Mike had been sucked in and they were all looking at this mouse hole. Then suddenly both Jon and Mike jumped back as if a giant something had just exploded out of this little hole and Donnie and Christopher were suddenly splitting a gut. They had pulled a fooly on their uncles with complete success. Watching from a short distance away, never in my life have I seen two men jump so far so fast. It was hilarious. I've been told what all was said but to this day, it's the vision that has stuck. I think we all laughed about that for at least the next mile if not longer.

By now we had to leave the size-line and go around a big swamp. Now we were dependent on the remains of the snowmachine trail. Course, even in the summer, we'd all driven it enough, we could recognize the different trees and obstacles along the way, plus there was a path along the ground.

Not much longer after coming back to the size-line was our next big obstacle, crossing a small creek with dry feet. All in all, it was a small problem since the water wasn't very high. It just called for a small detour.

Not very long after crossing the creek, the trail got interesting once again. Trees became further apart and the size-line wasn't so easy to spot any more. Long about then, the path we needed to take diverged from the size-line anyway since that line ended in the river that had come into view through the trees off to the right.

The next, and last, ravine we had to cross had been carved by our neighbor to make a snowmachine trail through it, so it had somewhat of a road winding down it and then back up the other side, but since it was a winter use thing, it didn't really look like much of a road. One machine wide and you didn't want to get in any kind of trouble on that part of the trail. It made for a rather easy crossing on foot though. That place was really quite steep and deep. Without that little trail, crossing it would have been very difficult if not impossible, at least at that point.

From there, it was a matter of knowing where to go cause finding the house that wasn't visible through the trees was interesting. Patty and Mike, and their two girls were expecting us and there was no little laughter shared over the plan to surprise us. Jon and Mike were very glad they had been talked out of it. We were all very tired when we got back.

On another day, Don took the guys fishing and then he came home less than an hour after leaving and he came alone. He came for dry clothes for Jon. Apparently my brother can walk on water.

They had stopped at a river-neighbor's place - at the time they were a small store - to buy some tackle. Jon pushed the boat off and was standing on the bow when Don put the boat into reverse. Jon wasn't as ready as he thought and the boat simply moved out from under him. Jon landed in the water (of course) - glacier water is VERY cold - less than a heartbeat later, Jon was on the bank, shedding clothes and heading for the store. He didn't even get his hair wet. The next day, Don poked an oar down where Jon went in, and even with a long oar, he didn't touch anything down there. Yeah, my brother can walk on water.

We took them to the plane a couple days later and saw them on their way back to civilization. The very next morning, the water had dropped enough that if they had not left when they did, they would have been forced to stay here through freeze-up. The boat was going nowhere. It was time to get the come-along out and pull the boat.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Getting ready to move out here, I had no idea how I was going to do the boys' school, so I got on the phone and did a little calling around. I found out that the state offered home schooling kits which included books, and teacher's manuals as well as lesson plans. Woohoo, one hurdle conquered. I sent off the application and then we moved.

I had the space in one bush plane, and not a big one either, to fill with all our worldly possessions, giving away or abandoning many of my bigger things. Anything with a plug was also left behind. Having visited, I knew a little of what I was getting into, but the whole school thing was one of those unknowns; I'd have to close my eyes and jump off that cliff when I came to it.

A friend of Don's with a snowmachine brought us a load of boxes long about Christmas time. Merry Christmas. Time to start school. Three big boxes full of books for each of the boys. When they said they'd send everything, they weren't kidding. There were of course the books, both what the boys got and the teacher's manual for each one. There was also any extra help papers and workbooks, extra project equipment should one or another of the subjects call for it. I've seen such things as a dehydrated fish for a dissection project - course the kids had both caught and cleaned quite a few fish by then so that package never got opened. There was calculators for math, a small globe for geography, test tubes for something in science, assorted reading books, I can't even remember all the extra cool little things they sent.

It took me a whole day to figure out what I was supposed to do with all this stuff and organize it so it made sense and I could find it when I needed it. My oldest, Donnie, was in 3rd grade and my youngest, Christopher, was in Kindergarten. The first day of school was really quite interesting. I had two boys in different grades and no idea how to handle that. So I started with Donnie. This is when I discovered that he could scarcely read. He could, but he need lots of practice. He tended to sound out the first letter and guess at the rest. So, to give him practice, I required that he read his assignments out loud to me - I'd help as needed. Then, just to make sure he was understanding the material, I'd read it to him before he did whatever homework that applied. It made for a very long day. Donnie was stubborn - just like me, and the only 'recess' was when I had to fix lunch or supper. When we finally waded through Donnie's subjects I moved on to Christopher's courses. They were much simpler.

Just as the grades were different, the boys were different too. Donnie would stall and lag about doing his work or doing it well enough to satisfy me, while Christopher wanted to soak up the new information like a sponge. Needless to say, where the teachers in town had only so much time to spend on any subject before they simply had to move on to the next, I had all the time I needed to wade through school with the boys, but even so there are only so many hours in a day.

There was a lesson all by itself in all this. One day, Donnie's lessons were quick and simple, done and over with in two hours - until then the typical school day for him was ten hours. I closed the last book and said, "OK, you're done. Go play." and reached for Christopher's books. Donnie sat there for a full minute. "Really?" he said. He was totally disbelieving that he was done with school and it was still light outside. I said, "Go. Go play." I think he ran around like a headless chicken for some time before he found something to do with his time. Never again did our school day last ten hours. Donnie learned that if he buckled down and got his work done and done right, he was off for the rest of the day.

The next year, we were invited to enroll the boys in the Skwentna school. That's where I learned how to deal with different grades in a one room school house. It was so simple. All the students did the same subject at the same time - Why didn't I think of that?

The next year, we home schooled again because we have moved upriver about thirty some odd river miles.

Then it was back down here again. We tried to run the boys up to school every day but it was so hard to get anything done at home and making the trip twice a day burned a lot of gas, so we bought a small boat with a 25 horse Johnson on it. I took the boys to school, hung around and helped out as I could and then brought them home.

Those trips were a story in themselves. We'd leave as soon as we could see, which got later every day. Fog on the river is frequent that time of year and more than once we'd attach a four-wheeler headlight to the front of the boat. In my opinion, it didn't really help all that much. Those mornings the tactic for driving was a series of drifts - drift to one side until I could spot some familiar landmark, follow that until I needed to be following something on the other side of the river, then drift over that way until I could identify something there. And if it was thick enough, one of the boys would lay on the front of the boat and watch for floating obstacles I really shouldn't hit.

Many is the times when I'd be driving along with the boys sitting side-by-side in front of me, hunkered down against the cold, rain, or fog, Christopher would doze off and start to tip sideways (no danger of falling out of the boat), his brother would reach over and grab his life-jacket and pull him back upright. It was nice seeing that. They've watched out for each other all their lives and still do.

Once our goal was reached, we'd park the boat, and then there was the three mile walk to the school house. A couple of the families (all two of them) had trucks, even the school had a truck but none of them were allowed to transport any but their own kids to school; the insurance wouldn't allow it. It was done though, sometime, it's just that there was seldom anyone with a truck where we were when we arrived and the shortcuts we took didn't take us past anyone's lane.

By now we had a snowmachine, but I wasn't so good with one of those so after freeze-up Don took them to school. Once again, that was too much cause he really couldn't stay the day; he needed to get firewood in and such. So, as soon as Donnie could start a machine and we were confident he could handle the drive, he drove his brother to school. We'd keep track of their progress by radio. We had a CB - most everyone on the river had one then. The boys were suppose to call when they got to school so we knew they arrived okay. The distance was too great for our radio to reach all the way to the school, but a neighbor who lived midway could talk to the school and to us, so they'd relay the message, either way if necessary. The good thing with snowmachines is they could drive straight from home to the door of the school.

Since we were living on a shoestring, we were constantly fixing and rebuilding various boat motors and snowmachines, so it wasn't too surprising to us when the boys would help some other student get their machine going at the end of the day either by doing some tinkering or simply being strong enough to pull the machine over enough times to get it going. Too bad the girls didn't seem to appreciate it as much as they should have. More than once, they stopped along the trail to do the same thing. I'm very proud of my boys.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cat Fishing

Everyone knows that cats can be very comical creatures. They chase most anything that moves and will go to great lengths to keep what they catch. Now, mix an avid fisherman with said cat and you have at least an hour or two full of giggles.

The first kitten we had was my first introduction to cat fishing. My husband cut the hook off a lure he called a coho fly, usually used to catch red salmon or cohos. However, out of season, say during the winter, they work great for cats too.

At the time, we lived in military housing and the only carpet was on the stairs. The living room was hard wood and the dining room and kitchen was linoleum. Since I really liked the hard wood floor, I didn't have any rugs.

Now, fishing for cat takes only a little patience and not a lot of skill but both will enhance the experience. Casting across the living room without taking out a light-bulb or knocking something off the coffee table takes some precision, not that I ever kept much on the coffee table but most any surface tended to collect something.

The clicking of the reel usually brought the desired target within a couple casts and the hunt was on. The optimum point of contact was right at the bottom of the stairs, and then, as soon as the catch was made, it was a hasty tug of war. Would the cat make it to the carpet before the fisherman could close the bale and retrieve the lure? Or would she be pulled, sliding, claws scratching and digging, fighting every inch of the way, across the hard wood floor.

But there was always the next cast, and sometimes she made it to the carpet, then the fight was truly on. With claws digging at the carpet and her teeth firmly sunk into the hair of the lure, she gave it all she was worth to keep what she'd caught. Her goal was to make it as far up the stairs as she could. My husband's goal was to reel her in, drag clicking away as he pulled at his pole just as if he were fishing for a lively trout.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home

The home where I now live did not come easily, nor did it come quickly. When we first moved out here, we came with the clothes on our backs and what we could stuff in a small bush plane - not much when you consider two small boys too. My husband had been working out here for two summers now, and he was here when the rest of us came, but that didn't count for much in the possessions of a family. He'd been working for one of the lodges here and had been able to negotiate a lodge-sitting job for the winter - supplies once a month and a roof over our heads. The job required us to be there and little else. It was a start. It got us all out here. After that we hopped around the area, moving from cabin to cabin as opportunity permitted, and going as far as roughly seventy miles up river so Don could work out of his boss's place for a year. We even spent some time in Skwentna so the boys could go to the one-room school there. Now that was a learning experience, for me anyway.

We came by this piece of property through my husband's boss. They had claimed four plots of land, one for him and his wife and one for each of their two boys. Three of those plots they had been able to develop but one of them was down here at Lake Creek and far from the others so they just never got around to doing anything with it. They were about to lose it back to the state but we bought it for the price of the survey. Couldn't tell you what that price was but I know it was a lot cheaper than if you were to go and buy such a piece of land on the market.

The plot was 20 acres, but other than that, we had little more than a map and a compass to help us find the place. Now, they had marked this place once before, but we discovered that they didn't correct for magnetic north when they tied their little markers around, so we had to pace it off and tie new markers. So once we found our landmark, that's what we did. With a compass and a fifty-foot rope, Don pointed the way and me and the boys walked the rope along inch-worm style - so many fifty-foot passes one way, ninety degrees and so many passes another direction and on around until we came back to the beginning. Then it was call the surveyor to come out and put it on the map. Turns out we did pretty good. The surveyor was pleased with our efforts to make his job easier, cutting bushes and branches out of the way if need be. As it turns out, we got real close to 20 acres - 19.something-er-other so close it's not worth mentioning in casual conversation.

As we were trekking through this uncharted wilderness, we happened upon a small clearing that was more grass than trees. I was looking at the grass and thinking yard for the boys, and Don was looking at the trees and thinking lumber for the house. During the course of the summer we started carving a path from the river to our little clearing and making the clearing into something somewhat shorter than six foot tall. Yes, wild grass here grows upwards of six feet tall and there's plenty of other plants and bushes who do as well. Our weed-eater and chainsaw saw a lot of work before we spent the first night here.

Before we could stay here, we needed somewhere to stay. Don built us a visqueen house out of small spruce poles nailed and tied between slightly larger trees. In it we had room for Don and me to sleep on the ground and the two boys had cots. We had a wood stove for heat, a TV and a single light. At night we were a beacon in the dark. One night military planes flew over on their way to some night-time training exercise further north and I swear they circled around to check out the strange light in the middle of nowhere. I suppose it's possible it was just a second wing passing over but I've never noticed them doing that since.

Before we actually built anything, Don went around the 'yard' and cut any trees that looked like they might hit the house should they decide to fall. Several stumps were left behind but what couldn't be milled into something useful was turned into firewood and that too was useful. At first, he'd cut a tree down and then cut it up into usable pieces while the boys and I hauled off branches and piled up what he cut. Though we had picked a clearing, there were still many trees around and it wasn't long before Don was merely cutting the trees down to be dealt with later. I could only watch with sympathy as he'd cut a tree and then look around tiredly, and then he'd sigh as he spotted yet another tree that could potentially endanger the house.

It took us a week to build the floor. Don milled the beams from trees in the area and then posts were cut and treated to set in the ground. Shortly before we moved here, a neighbor wanted a cabin torn down. We could have any of it we wanted if we'd come do the work. We picked that building clean, leaving very little behind, taking even the nails if we could salvage them. The lumber from that building created three of our walls, cutting what we needed to mill by a lot. All we had to buy was the plywood for the inside and outside, and the insulation and vapor barrier. Oh and we can't forget the windows but they came later.

While Don was nailing lumber together, I was hauling it up from the boat, the boys helped wherever they could. That was a chore. Where we can park the boats is at the bottom of a hill, and at the time, there was nothing but a foot trail up it. Once on top, I had a three-wheeler and a sled I could haul whatever I loaded the quarter mile to the house. But that hill was, is, and always will be, a killer. One sheet of plywood at a time or a couple boards at a time and up the hill I'd go. The boys, bless their little hearts, helped however they could. They were hard workers.

Roughly a day per wall and another few days for the roof and we had a shell. Then it was stuff it all with insulation and cover it with plastic. We were rushing - winter was coming. Take my advice, never move into a house you haven't completed. It's very difficult to complete it once it's filled with all your possessions. We've lived in this house for over 15 years now (I think) and the upstairs still isn't finished. But, at the time, we didn't have a choice. As soon as the place was built enough to do, we moved all our possessions in and piled them in the middle of the floor to be sorted out later; daylight was gone and it was snowing outside. The boys claimed their bedrooms upstairs and moved enough of their stuff up there to sleep. Don and I parked our little mattress (twin size by the way) at the back of the house and then, while Don lit a fire in the stove, I cooked supper. Home sweet home.

The next morning I looked outside. The visqueen tent we'd been living in was only a few steps from our home-made front door. Our construction site had a fresh clean blanket of snow over it but one more night in the tent wouldn't have been a happy one. The roof had come loose and the middle of our ex-home now had a pile of snow dumped in it. We had to laugh. We squeaked in under the wire by the skin of our teeth. We spent the rest of the day taking down what was left of our tent-house.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Good Bear-Dog

What is it that makes a good bear-dog? A healthy mix of foolish bravery, agility and loyalty. Everyone knows that dogs are loyal, and to a fault, turning on their masters only as a last resort, and most dogs are agile and full of fun-loving life. The foolish bravery part comes only to a few. During our stay in the wilderness of Alaska, we have been blessed with two such dogs. The first was an Airedale named Lavender. She moved out here with us, a Shelty Colly and my two cats. She learned the ways of our new wilderness life just like the rest of us were doing. There was a lot of snow our first winter out here and very little trouble to be gotten into.

The following summer was also a learning experience. Lavender had learn, without really being taught, to hang rather close to any of us who might be doing something interesting and to come when called without delay. In her eyes, the kids were to be watched over and played with but not minded so much - they were still pups.

Since we didn't live at the lodge that summer, I didn't see what happened, but Don was carrying fish to the freezer in back of the lodge and had his hands full. Yes, he had a pistol on his hip, but the bear (a grizzly) was already charging and there was no time to drop the fish and pull his gun. Lavender was there and suddenly she was in the bear's face. Never before had she been fierce - not with anything, but no one was going to pick on her master.

The bear stopped its charge and swatted at the dog, never touching her as she danced out of reach but didn't go away and was right back in there again. By now, the fish was on the ground and the pistol in hand but Don had a different problem - shooting the bear without hitting the dog.

I'm sure the whole thing happened in mere seconds but as far as Lavender was concerned, a big loud noise issued from her master and suddenly the bear was down and dead. Don said it was interesting to watch her think about this and quickly put it all together. She now knew what a gun was and it was the only thing she feared. For her, 'big-loud-noise' equaled 'dead', and she knew what had issued that big loud noise.

For her, that was the only bear attack and the only thing we shot with her around, but she never forgot. Every time guns came into hands she would find somewhere to be out of sight, to come if called, but she'd much rather not.

The dog we have now, Gizmo, did much the same thing. Endlessly playful and loving people, she knew who would throw a stick for her and would happily bring any of several she'd collected if you'd only throw it a few thousand times. She was a mutt mix of 1/4 black lab, 1/4 golden retriever, 1/4 husky and 1/4 shepherd. She looks like a shepherd though chunkier, and the bit of white around her nose and the tip of her tail tells of the husky. I guess her love of bringing back the exact stick you throw is the retriever part and her love of water is the lab part, but nowhere in there is the foolish brave part, not that we knew anyway.

One day, while I was at work, my husband was out using the weed-eater and unable to hear anything much else. This time the gun is in the house. Over the weed-eater, Don hears something out of the ordinary and looks around to see a bear charging across our little pond and the dog charging to interfere. Don drops the weed-eater and runs for the house, hoping to get there before the dog gets killed, but by the time he gets back out, the bear is no longer in sight - neither is the dog. He calls a few times and she comes back, the hair along her spine all standing up like a mohawk, the bear stayed gone.

Since then, Gizmo has kept the yard clear of bear and moose. Over the years, she's had to watch over the various critters that have shared our lives for a time. Now she just has to watch over Don and me. Most times, bears are not a problem here. We are not on a beaten trail for them. Summer time fishing is not all that great anywhere near here, though that doesn't mean they don't pass through. For the most part, I prefer to allow them to pass undisturbed, sending the dog after them only as a last resort. So, over the years, she's only chased them if we're already outside when a bear comes to call. Though she's come away with a mouthful of hair, she's never been touched in return. But she's getting old now so I worry about her. She's ten years old this spring.